For today’s workforce, most can expect to have at least two careers in their lifetime. But creative guru Ken Smith is not of this generation of workers.
For 50 years – 36 straight through – Smith has been an employee of the Chilliwack Progress.
Until this week.
On Wednesday, Smith took his final bow at The Progress headquarters, now setting his eyes on peaceful retirement.
While his career may seem long, maybe even a little mundane for today’s workers, Smith doesn’t see it that way at all.
“It’s been a different job every five years,” he said. “It’s been non-stop learning.”
Smith started at the newspaper in 1962 when he was just 10 years old delivering the latest headlines to his nearby neighbours. The paper route lasted three years, after which he was moved into the office doing odd jobs that included cleaning the presses, cutting, stapling, wrapping papers, pouring hot lead at 5 a.m. in preparation for the letters and lines of type to be cast later that day. He even took on janitorial and accounting duties.
“I was bounced around all over the building, wherever I was needed,” he said.
But at 16, Smith took a hiatus from The Progress. He finished school, worked for the family sporting goods business, got married. And then in 1976, at a time when he was weighing his future career options between becoming an accountant or surveyor, The Progress came knocking.
The newspaper’s shop foreman headhunted Smith for an apprenticeship position as a printer. Despite more than 50 applicants vying for the job, the foreman felt Smith would be the perfect fit.
Smith thought so too.
“The industry fascinated me,” he said. “The mechanics of it, the smell of the print shop, the smell of the ink, the smell of the presses, the smell of the dark room – it was all very unique.”
On April 26, 1976 Smith started his 36-year career in the print shop.
In an industry that has seen numerous changes over the years, Smith has been the one staying force. He’s gone from number 21 on the seniority board to number one. He’s gone from a shop of 21 fellow printers to less than a third of that. He’s gone from pasting up the paper onto flats to now doing everything by the “push of a button” on a computer.
“It used to be so labour intensive, but now there’s a lot less wasted motion,” he said.
Thanks in large part to the evolution of technology.
In the early days, there were no computers, just hot lead. When the first computers did arrive, they had no screens, just a keyboard and a spool of tape. And the newspaper’s first server, which was purchased in 1982, filled the back room.
“It was the size of three household refrigerators,” said Smith.
And now, the business as a whole is largely controlled by computers.
For Smith, it seemed fitting to end his career yesterday on a deadline day.
“I’m going to miss the challenge of it; it never ceased to be a challenge,” he said. “I think the hardest part to get my head around will be not going to work. I’ve always had the work ethic that you have to be productive.”